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Mary Parizek transports needed items March 22 to her grandson, who with a friend airlifted them to flood victims in Fremont following historic flooding that isolated the town for several days in mid-March. Parizek’s concern for meeting human need is most evident in her work on Mary Our Queen’s Human Needs Committee, an organization she co-founded in 1976. ELIZABETH WELLS

Senior’s name synonymous with meeting need

Mary and Dick Mollner first met Mary Parizek when their fifth child was born prematurely. Mary Mollner couldn’t work during the baby’s short 17-month life, and hardships were common. A can of special formula lasted three days and cost $40. It was 1980.

“We were members of Mary Our Queen Parish. Mary called all the time asking, ‘Isn’t there something we can do?’ I didn’t know her then,” remembered Mary Mollner. “We were too proud and kept saying we’re fine. One day the doorbell rang, and they came with bag after bag of groceries. It saved our lives.”

Mollner said Parizek shared her own story of life’s challenges. “It made me feel, ‘Wow, it can happen to anybody.’ Nobody wants to admit they need help, but it can take one life-altering event. It renews your faith knowing there are others who want to help,” she said.

People say Parizek, 70, the gregarious co-founder of the Human Needs Committee at Mary Our Queen (MOQ) Parish in Omaha, is full of life, knows everybody and has a generous spirit. They also say she hates the spotlight. 

Still, her name is synonymous with responding to human need and upholding dignity. She agreed to talk to the Catholic Voice because she says the committee’s work changes lives.  

Back in 1980, MOQ’s Human Needs Committee was in its infancy. Parizek, along with her late husband, Mike, and a few other parishioners, established it in 1976 to help parishioners and others who needed help with rent, food, clothing and other necessities. With no St. Vincent de Paul Society or money from the parish, the committee asked for donations.

The group is small by design, said Parizek. The parish’s business manager and Parizek are often the only ones who know people’s requests. They come directly to the parish or indirectly through friends or the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

“It’s important that we exercise sensitivity to everyone’s dignity,” said Parizek. Generally, that means only the receiver tells his or her story. 

“During Lent there’s a reading that says when you fast, don’t beat your chest for all to see. It reminds me of Mary,” said Carolyn Lugert, a friend of Parizek and parishioner at MOQ. “She does this work quietly – she might tell you that she knows someone, no names, who needs something, but she doesn’t need others to pat her on the back. She knows what she does and that’s between her and God.” 

Parizek and the committee wanted to increase parish participation in their work, so they started the MOQ garage sale in 1984. At the time, it filled a quarter of the school’s gym and raised $2,407.

“We thought we’d died and gone to heaven!” said Parizek.

In 2018 the garage sale filled the gym and several classrooms, raised $36,219 and had more than 300 volunteers, she said. The preparation and sale have a festival-like atmosphere and provide scores of service hours for middle and high school students. 

“The whole thing is a social outing,” Parizek said. “Adults say this is the one time each year I see so and so. Kids might sign up for a night, and then come the next and the next. I want them to learn it’s fun helping others.”

The MOQ Human Needs Committee also solicits donations, receiving $29,000 in 2018. Parizek said the funds provided grocery and clothing gift cards at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas to 12 local organizations serving the needy.

At Christmas, the committee spearheads the Adopt-a-Family effort. They delivered Christmas gifts to 183 families – more than 600 people – in 2018. 

Six years ago Lester (last name withheld), his wife and their five children were establishing their blended family when they received gifts from MOQ’s Christmas initiative. That help and Parizek’s sincerity deeply impacted him.

“She’d talk to my wife from time to time and learned that we were trying to rebuild our lives,” said Lester, who is not Catholic. “They helped us for a couple of years. Every year since, we have helped them deliver to families.”

He said he marvels at the massive Christmas deliveries. “I couldn’t believe how she organizes it all, how she keeps it all together.”

Lugert, who also helps with the garage sale, agrees. “I know Mary doesn’t like a lot of credit, but boy, I don’t know where we would be if she didn’t get it organized,” she said. “Everybody has a job, and everyone helps. We are sort of the wheel, but she is the hub of it.”

Parizek’s work has inspired Lester. “We are stable enough now that maybe this year or next, besides delivering, we can adopt a family,” he said. “It gave us hope. I want to spread that too.”

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